Astana National Library by BIG



Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group have won an international competition to design the Astana National Library in Astana, Kazakhstan.


BIG's design merges four forms - a circle, a rotunda, an arch and a yurt - into an "infinite loop" with a single double-looping surface plane covering the entire building.


Let's leave it to the architects to explain better:


BIG to design Kazakhstan’s new National Library in Astana.


Invited as one of five pre-selected architect led teams, BIG was awarded first prize in an open international design competition which included 19 entrants among others Lord Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid.


The new National Library, named after the first President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, encompasses an estimated 33.000m2. The winning proposal was chosen by the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan K. Masimov together with Astana’s akim I. Tasmagambetov and a council of architects. The design was hailed as being both modern and rational and anchored in a classical vocabulary of traditional libraries. The circular organisation of the archive at its inner core combines the clarity of a linear organisation with the convenience of an infinite loop.


"The design of the National Library combines four universal archetypes across space and time into a new national symbol: the circle, the rotunda, the arch and the yurt are merged into the form of a Moebius strip. The clarity of the circle, the courtyard of the rotunda, the gateway of the arch and the soft silhouette of the yurt are combined to create a new national monument appearing local and universal, contemporary and timeless, unique and archetypal at the same time" - Bjarke Ingels, Founding Partner on the Astana National Library 2009


Nation Building

Being one of the future cornerstones of Kazakh nation building, and a leading institution representing the Kazakh national identity, designing the library went beyond a mere architectural challenge. The new National Library in Astana, Kazakhstan’s new capital since 1997, shall not only accumulate history but also provide a foundation for new futures for the nation and its new capital. It will serve as an intellectual, multifunctional and cultural center, with a primary goal of reflecting the establishment and development of a sovereign Kazakhstan, its political history, and the Head of the State’s activities and role in the development of the country.


The National Library will be the place where the citizens of Astana, the people of Kazakhstan as well as international visitors can come to explore the country’s history, its diverse cultures, its new capital and its first president. The Library will accommodate and communicate with all segments of the population: civil servants, politicians, researchers, students, museum historians and staff.


The Library is conceived as a symbiosis of urbanity and nature. Like Astana, which is located in the heart of the Kazakh mainland, it will be integrated into the heart of a re-created Kazakh landscape. The park around the library is designed like a living library of trees, plants, minerals and rocks allowing visitors to experience a cross section of Kazakhstan’s natural landscape, and personally experience the capital’s transition across the country from Almaty to Astana.


"What is a library but an efficient archive of books… and a path for the public to reach them" - Thomas Christoffersen, the Project Leader on the National Library


In the library they will be able to study the history of the Kazakh culture and language present in the massive collection of books, magazines, film and other media. The archive is organized as a circular loop of knowledge, surrounded by light and air on both sides. On the periphery a 360 degree panorama of Astana - at the heart of the building a contemplative courtyard domed by the heavenly light blue of the celestial vault. The simplicity and perfection of the infinite circle allows for a crystal clear and intuitive orientation in the vast and growing collection that will populate the shelves of the National Library.


The ideal addition to the perfect circle will be a series of public programs that simultaneously wraps the library on the outside as well as the inside, above as well as below. Twisting the public program into a continuous spiraling path tracing the library on all sides, creates an architectural organization that combines the virtues of all 4 complimenting models. Like a Möbius strip, the public programs move seamlessly from the inside to the outside and from ground to the sky providing spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and growing city skyline.


Möbius Strip

The 2 interlocking structures: the perfect circle and the public spiral, create a building that transforms from a horizontal organization where library museum and support functions are placed next to each other, to a vertical organization where they are stacked on top of each other through a diagonal organization combining vertical hierarchy, horizontal connectivity and diagonal view lines. By wrapping the transforming composition of spaces with a continuous skin we create a Möbius strip volume where the facades move from inside to outside and back again.


"The envelope of The National Library transcends the traditional architectural categories such as wall and roof. Like a yurt the wall becomes the roof, which becomes floor, which becomes the wall again" - Thomas Christoffersen, the Project Leader on the National Library



CLIENT: Kazakhstan Presidential Office
SIZE: 33.000 M2
LOCATION: Astana, Kazakhstan
STATUS: 1st Prize


Partner-in-Charge: Bjarke Ingels
Project Leader: Thomas Christoffersen
Team: Amy Campbell, Jakob Henke, Johan Cool, Jonas Barre, Daniel Sundlin


Posted on Tuesday August 25th 2009 at 9:42 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • dude


  • vico

    very good project, i really like it but i would prefer it without the too usual glass enveloppe, it kinda simplify the complex and beautiful internal structure

  • A wonderful project, 1000 Bravos!

    Francois Beydoun

  • Dimitra

    seems like dezzen wouldn’t want me to go to bed by posting one great design after another… hadid, cheungvogl (ps: check out their library in dubai on their website – something similiar about this project), Kit Men, Wilhelmson and now BIG… seems ausgust is a very fruitful month to design :)
    love it!

  • borat sagidyiev

    this building look like sleeve of wizard

  • Josh NY

    congrats, Bjarne!
    so nice, you want to be a person in the renderings….

  • Ah, Astana. Kazakhstan’s Dubai.

  • eugmir

    It looks like a fortune cookie – which is fitting since inside a fortune you also get to read. I get it! Its soo conceptual.

  • matt

    the explanation part about the yurt is quite weak, it doesn’t need this to be a good building
    BIG is an impressive office

  • yimyim

    wow that section is seriously dissapointing.
    a nice ‘shopping bag’ thats had the program stuffed into it.
    Actually the most serious question is that of scale…

  • hj

    BIG moved from Rem to Ben

  • ulanbator

    I love the amount of usable space within the shell!!!

  • one photo of a bookshelf… where’s the great reading room?

  • Kong

    if you are not satisfied with the result of your rendering outer glow and lens flare are always an option. It`s a pity you cannot switch them on in real life. It would make the world so much nicer !

    The amount of usable space inside the shell is an uncontrolled sideeffect of the collision between sulptural skin and functional interior. Not something i would consider to be a strenght of the building. I liked Big better as a danish koolhaas spin off, (the copenhagen housing project is great !) As a poor mens ben , they do not convince me.

  • Omnibot

    Please don´t do it. I really enjoyed the stuff BIG produced in the past. But spending a week in Astana a year ago and seeing how bad Normans Pyramid is, i´m sure this will be the beginning of the end. So, please don´t do it!

  • bob

    haha… the geometry impresses but when I scrolled down to Kong’s comments. Um, haha.

  • N

    That section is absolutely terrible and an embarrassment. Yet another group of superficial designers who know how to make things “funky” without the building having any substance or timelessness to it. Its like the library factor was an afterthought. This generic building with generic spaces and furniture could have any programme, please show a piece of work that describes how this building is a wonderful place to read and learn. Social spaces yes, but also great reading rooms, a sense of quiet..maybe thats just old fashioned now.

  • N

    First image is nice though

  • sullka

    N, it’s a proposal, the section only depicts the idea and possible oraganization, and above all, that there’s a factible structural system behind the idea.

    This building is great, hope it gets built.

    I do find however lots of empty space between the shell skin and the inner spaces, will be an MEP nightmare to calculate the HVAC.

  • Richie

    It’s an interesting geometric form but like a lot of these mega-projects from European architects that seem to be turning up in countries like Khazakstan, Outer Mongolia or China it looks to be context-less and more-or-less arbitrary in form and scale.. Is this just going in the middle of a gigantic empty field somewhere? It doesn’t appear to relate to any existing landscape features or urban forms. I would also agree with some of the comments above that the functional program appears to be somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the spaces left by the geometric skin.

  • michelalano

    Nice building. Funny that there are no renderings showing stacks of books and people reading like in a library. For this reason, it looks like a civic space, and I can’t imagine it as a library.

  • jame

    I impressed so much…

  • gray

    form form form form form form form. . . etc.

  • I feel that the möbiul form of this project provides a cohesiveness for this sort of aesthetic that someone like Hadid generally lacks. It’s wonderful!

  • ElP

    I always felt that books are totally overrated, especially in libraries… Carpets, twists and funny shadings, that’s what they should be all about! Chapeau!

  • tanya telford – T

    this looks so good plus based on a structure which is part of countries history & culture, amazing modern public space,

  • Looks great. congenial with UN-Studios Mercedes museum

  • mike


  • cf

    well, i think the building looks compressed and forced.
    to work better, it should be at least double size…
    too much of a remix: rem+ben+zaha…
    i go crazy!!

  • efj

    Great work!!!!

  • MrCoolTeapot

    At first it appeared to me to be more of NOW than of time and place but the more I look at it I see the yurt connection. Not so much the abstracted “inside becomes outside” but simply in the roundness and the overall skin texture.

    In truth, I’ve created a texture that somewhat resembles the outer skin of this building: think this would be cool as a bowl form on your living room table?

  • gaque

    a few of you calling this a “great building” need to really hold your horses. great buildings are timeless, rigorous buildings tied to a culture… this is just a formal play stuffed with boxes and then scaled up. you can call it a nice design or an interesting computer play, but please do not call it a great building.

    obviously the comparison to UN studio’s moebius obsession is important. but whereas UN develops this idea quite thoroughly, in the spatial organization and considerate of program, this project is so sloppy…the section showing the envelope skewed off from the floor plates discredits the entire thing.

    so, i pose the question:
    if this formal investigation is so exciting, why make every room a 6 sided box?

  • pepe

    There’s only one person reading in all of the big bling library images. . and he’s forced to lean against a column to get some decent natural light.

    Strange that a circular building doesn’t have a strong communal space, just a lot of very generous circulation space surrounding a large empty core.
    Seems that most of BIG’s recent work is based on a circulation gimmick of some kind and unfortunately the innovation ends there (check out ‘the mountain’; inclined lift, ’nuff said). The awkward 2nd section proves how shameless the form making is here. Unfortunately we learnt how harmful these contextless object studies can be back in the sixties and seventies.
    Lovely images though, pity they’re garnished with empty rhetoric about the sickeningly literal but ultimately irrelevant influence of the yurt, followed with a list of failed design aspirations.
    There’s very little here to suggest that there was any consideration of the end user at a smaller scale, just the BIG scale.

  • French Ise

    amazing how people jump on BIG… reminds me how people are jumping on Zaha everytime she reveals a design… people like to jump on you when you are BIG…

    like the design a lot and think, it’s a great public space!
    of course, a huge square reading hall would do, but isn’t it a great opportunity, to shape a public space, which provides you with the amazing atmosphere and surprising elements as this one does?

    p.s. where can we see the other entries?

  • abcs

    french ise, the criticism has less to do with the fact this project is by BIG, but the fact that BIG’s approach tends to be outrageously narrowminded

  • Waleed Ghanem

    mmmm .. cool project, i like it ..

  • prattler

    why Kazakhstan? this ‘object’ can be placed anywhere …

  • fahad

    nice concept of twist the donut and make it introwarded but i have issue by huge n massive structure its not giving respect to its surroundings and trying other to see look i m da structure by force … structure must be that be look by itself not by forcing others to just see it n say wow wat a structure ??? hmmm

  • j

    This looks cool, but i would apriciate seeing how the books will be stored

  • Roka

    I think this is an erlier example of the structure ınvented by sculptor Ilhan Koman:

  • Archimedus

    Have u noticed the man in the center of one of the renders – Nazarbayev (Kaz.’ president). This is another example of selfish and superimposed design. It only shows who’s driving architectural car in countries of the developing world. I agree with comments above and it’s indeed a simple “moebius tape” object, kind of a donut. Hope Kaz. people will find a better way to spend their money.

  • Joseph

    Politicaly driven [downside] up side its extremely awsome, very interesting I love the unusual form, very interesting

  • Art and engineering at their best !